Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stone, Woods And Cook: Inter-Racial Pioneers

The low-brow spheres were the site of a lot of racial progress in early Civil Rights Era America. Rock and Roll gets all the play, but there was some good right-mindedness going on in drag racing too.

The Stone/Woods/Cook team was the first successful interracial drag racing outfit, and wildly successful they were. Tim Woods and Fred Stone were Black car freaks in Los Angeles, and they built some of the most successful cars of the Sixties. Doug Cook was their driver, a transplanted Southerner who had awakened from his Jim Crow background after a few years in Los Angeles. Their blown gas coupes destroyed the competition.

Tim Woods must have been really something. He had a big construction company, and he really loved his vehicles. He'd had a habit of buying Oldsmobiles and immediately dropping Cadillac engines in them, Cadillac engines were the bomb in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties. Building dedicated race cars must have seemed like a natural progression, once he had a couple of bucks to play around with. The So-Cal drag scene was admirably tolerant of diversity: if you were a hard charger you got respect and no hard time. Later on the team went national, and they had to be more careful when they went to the Southeast. Tim and Fred stayed away, and Doug Cook took a lot of shit for being a race-traitor.

They weren't alone in carrying the flag, there were other Black drag racing heroes. Malcolm Durham helped to create the funny-car phenomenon. Big Willie Robinson was another L.A. guy. He started the International Brotherhood of Street Racers and worked with the L.A. police to get a handle on the street racing "problem." They started by blocking off streets to have events (with police cooperation), and finally the city leased him a site on Terminal Island for a dollar a year to start the Brotherhood International Raceway. Run what ya' brung!

The music was a big deal for me, an important part of my development, showing me Black and White faces together. I had Black heroes in sports and music in the Fifties. I'm sure that I also prospered from seeing Stone, Woods and Cook in my subscription copy of Hot Rod magazine every month during the early Sixties, my high-school years. Smiling broadly, hugging each other, and kicking ass and taking names.

I just wanted to take a minute to appreciate their efforts here in Black History Month.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Alert The Media: Missing Blogger Found

I've been traveling; I've been busy; I've been quiet.

Not that it hasn't been interesting. Like at LAX, waiting for the now-standard shuttle bus to a remote terminal, there was a giant he/she in a glittered t-shirt and denim shorts, nervously shaking her delicately sandled foot, very hard looks, very tough looking face surrounded by very nice long hair, wearing a hospital wrist-band. These are all good reasons to go out, you don't see this at home.

Perhaps tomorrow I will make a point of actually having something to say.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Liberal Christian

Rick Santorum is really a wildy entertaining dude. Today's hit is, "there's no such thing as a Liberal christian."

Added to, "in the Protestant Reformation all of those new religions left Christianity behind," and the "Satan" stuff, and lots of others that I don't care to keep in short term memory, this fellow is building a reputation as an extremist, if one is to be kind, and an unmitigated idiot, if one is disposed to be truthful.

There's no arguing with someone like this. It's like arguing with a child about the location of Chicago, or about the physical properties of steam.

So this guy is standing in mud, with all of these monstrous things hatching out at his feet, and the question is: when do they all start jumping up and biting him in the ass?

To be clear, none of my oxen are gored in the "Liberal christian" quote. Although I am intellectually close to the former, and culturally close to the latter, I am not emotionally attached to either.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eddie Palmieri-Nunca contigo

Boy, this Seventies Newyorican music was as exciting as music gets. The whole culture was fabulous, great food, the best parties, great friendship and hospitality, great people in general. It was a blessing to get a piece of it, I had a couple of good friends whom I miss very much. They definitely got the best (redacted), and they weren't shy about sharing the good fortune.

This song is one of my Top Ten of all time. La canta Lalo es que linda!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Burglar Alert!

I'll be leaving in a couple of hours for my annual pilgrimage to America. One of my sons will be getting married while I'm there, good for him! And it is good too, I have met the woman, she's a keeper. There'll be lots of revisiting favorite foods; a trip to see my father in New Mexico on the eve of his 91st birthday; watching depressingly vacuous and counterproductive American "news" coverage; and the inevitable more or less enjoyable conversations with various significant others.

This is a world in which I can no longer easily sense my purpose. Too much has changed, there's so much now that I'm just not comfortable with. When politics is enough to make you long for Nixon, you know that you're in trouble. It sneaks up on you, the facts of this unlikely future catch you unawares (if I may speak generally, maybe it's just me). I'll be bringing a few extra packs of Marlboro Menthols with me, I get them for two bucks a pack, made in the Philippines, very good. Much better, in fact, than the Marlboro Menthals you get in America. I smoke a few everyday, a few, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Cigarettes in California go for almost eight bucks a pack now, and it occurred to me that the price per cigarette is forty cents. Forty cents! APIECE! When I was in the Navy we got whole cartons for $1.90. Who wouldn't smoke at those prices? (Civilians got a pack for thirty-something cents.)

Well, bon voyage to me. I'll be checking in, they have computers where I'm going.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Singing Isn’t Easy; Singing Is Easy; Discuss

When I was a boy, singing was a technique for handling children in bulk. We did a lot of singing, at the direction of the adults in charge, anytime we were taken anywhere or otherwise handled in a group. Scouts, school trips, all manner of meetings, assemblies, and of course at church for the old Latin mass, we were little singing fools. “The Bear Went Over the Mountain;” “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall;” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat;” “Frere Jacque;” we sang these a lot.

So I grew up thinking that singing was something that I could do. It was never a point of pride, just a simple fact. I remember singing along with the radio in the car as a boy, “Don’t Be Cruel;” “Lonely Teenager;” “Wake Up Little Suzie;” “Travelin’ Man;” singing because it seemed like a socially acceptable thing to do, and it was fun. Singing in cars with my one-year-older “big sister” cousin was a lovely bonding experience. I could sing, I was sure of it.

Before too long, I got old enough to become very shy about it, and after that it was a long time before anyone heard me singing. I learned to play guitar too over the years, but it was the same thing. I worked hard at that, and eventually I got pretty good at it, but except for my wife and sons in another room no one heard that either. It was my dearest wish to play with other musicians, be in a band even, but I was frozen in a state of social anxiety that prohibited it.

Finally, in my early forties, I got the chance to do both. My son was taking piano lessons, and the teacher’s husband was a sax player and also a music teacher. Music is a tough gig, and people who make a living at it must be very creative. So this guy decided to try “group lessons,” so that his sax students could have practice playing with others. It was good for them, and it was good for him too. I was invited along, and it was great. This fellow was a band and orchestra guy, very experienced. He could play multiple instruments, and he could always come up with material that was just challenging enough and never boring. Never square either, he made little charts for Ray Charles songs, James Brown standards, and even some Miles Davis. He also had a great handle on the parts to be played and the musical ideas. I found that I wasn’t shy about playing anymore. I was functioning well, and a little praise put the whole thing over the top.

I started to host a Sunday jam at my house, and it was there that I started to do some singing too. I quickly realized that there was a trick to it that I was missing. Although I could carry a tune and my timing and counting were good, I wasn’t breathing right. Most casual singers utilize the same set of muscles and organs that they employ for general speech; this is a mistake. So I set myself to figuring it out, this singing thing.

Speaking takes place in the upper respiratory tract, including the sinuses and the mouth. The voice box and the tongue are very involved. Singing, proper singing, is completely different. It must start from the diaphragm, and the rest of that stuff should be involved as little as possible. The throat, voice box and mouth should be as open as possible, and used more in the manner of a horn, an apparatus for amplification. Bypassing the sinus all together is a good idea. Moving as much air through this apparatus as you can, as efficiently as you can, is very important to the enterprise of singing.

I learned by listening to singers, by listening much more critically to much better singers that I was accustomed to. Lots of standards from great jazz singers, for one thing. Many Brazilian singers were instructive. I was surprised to discover that the singer that helped me the most in figuring out the breathing thing was Karen Carpenter.

Never a big Carpenters fan myself, not my style. But I discovered that this tiny woman, singing so gently, was breathing up a storm and getting great results. Besides that, she had a tear in her voice, a crying tone, that is, that I began to really appreciate. Her’s is a very neutral presentation, seemingly with very little effort, that yields very emotional results.

Now I live in Asia and I can tell you, years of Karaoke singing have really matured my talents (such as they are, I’m not making any great claims here). It’s good practice, one has to be flexible. Singing Billy Joel songs in impossibly high keys without a chance to adjust the machine can be a real challenge. Karaoke machines seem to favor the key of “F” for some unknown reason. And Thai’s make the darnedest requests, they love “My Way,” and “New York, New York,” difficult songs that are not very enjoyable to sing. The entire Eagles catalog is popular, and except for “Hotel California” I don’t mind that stuff. I was surprised at a seminar party last year, one hundred Thai’s and me, when in one voice they requested “La Bomba!” I never figured out where that one came from, but they really loved it and it was a lot of fun for me. Nobody here speaks Spanish.

Whatever, I always smile and go for it, even singing the dreaded “Country Roads” on way too many occasions. God, I hate that song. You have to be careful too, every couple of years in Asia somebody gets killed over “Country Roads,” sometimes they get shot for singing it over and over, and sometimes for singing it badly. It’s a real problem.

So, is singing easy or not? I don’t know, but it is kind of fun.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thailand Is Burning

Fire is a popular tool in Thailand, and in Uthai Thani is seemed to be used even more than usual. While we were driving down the road I noticed lots of smoke up ahead, and it turned out to be a sugarcane field where they were burning off the leftovers after a harvest. Turns out that they give the fields a good burn BEFORE the harvest too, because cane is easier to cut if you burn it a little, go figure.

Freda Payne - Cherish What Is Dear To You - [STEREO]

Some of these songs have great lessons in them. That's all I've got to say about it.

I love the CKLW promo at the start of the record too. That's "C" for Canada, it was (is?) a Windsor, Ontario station. They reference the "Motor City" because Detroit is right across the river, that's their market too. I could listen to the station in New York but only at night, later was better. That's a function of the form of AM radio waves. It was great in the Sixties, CKLW played lots of English Invasion stuff that didn't get played anywhere else.

It's Good To Have Friends

This is me with my buddy Suksa and his wife and daughter. Another daughter is studying in Bangkok. Suksa is a retired Thai Marine and a young lawyer (the Common Law euphemism for someone who has been a lawyer for fewer than five years). He's also an ex-student of mine. He's a very nice guy. He's one of those Thai's who realized early on that English was good for just about any career. In the Marines, his facility in English got him choice assignments with UN and ASEAN deployments around Asia, which meant extra pay and more medals (inter-service cooperation!).

He's a real get-along guy and I'm happy to know him.

Temple Fish Feeding

Everywhere you go in Thailand there's a river handy, and many cities have temples located at riverside, and some of these temples feature fish feeding. You can buy bags of bread or fish food, and as you can see the fish are lined up and ready to eat. This is one of the fish temples, a nice one that is in either Chainat, Suphan Buri, or maybe Uthai Thani. We traveled around a lot that day, I'm not sure.

Those are some big cat fish, and they make an interesting flood story too. During the floods last year, the canal near my house was full, full, full. It never overflowed, but there was a lot of water flowing through, water that came down through rivers from the north. While the canal was high I noticed that guys were fishing, quite a few guys, and they were catching some big-ass fish. At the temple, my friend told me that during the flood the catfish disappeared, and I said oh! I know where they went! The flood had carried them down to Bangkok and my canal.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Second Cool Vehicle Alert Of The Week: Fifty Year Old Honda Dream

Just a nice mall display, a 1958 Honda Dream that really looked great. Probably a 175 cc, a big bike for Thailand. Within five years similar bikes were on sale in the US. The American "Dream" was a 250 cc much in the style of this one, a little on the cushy side. The hot set up was the 305 cc "Super Hawk." They were nice bikes, and they could keep up with much bigger bikes without much trouble. Then there were the "Scramber" versions, lower gearing and easy wheelies. They were all nice bikes.

Friday, February 3, 2012

phil manzanera - big day (w brian eno)

Yeah, forget about Bruce Springsteen, this shit was the bomb in the mid-Seventies. Phil was the guitar player in Roxy Music, and this was a side project that Brian Eno (fellow Roxy) was involved in. The both of them were interested in sound in a very new way for guys in their genre. They were essentially rock guys, pop guys, but they were focused on textures and tones, and lyrics that went way beyond moon/spoon/June. (Like those colossally overrated Beatles, the Kings of old fashioned Moon/Spoon/June.) It was a great time, people were taking chances. These guys, their frame of artistic reference was much broader than the average bear today. Remember Television? Tom Verlaine? Any of you young people know where the Verlaine came from? I didn't think so.

But I understand, you young people today are very knowledgeable and intelligent in your own way. It's cool, I'm cool with it. I know that I can't work an I-Phone, so what do I know? Who gives a shit who the Vice President is? Or where Ghana is?

This modern world is just not our game anymore, we so-called seniors. The important things for us cranky geezers to remember are that nothing is important anymore; giving a shit about anything is stupid; all information is bullshit; reality is overrated; and empathy is counterproductive, totally girlie, and lame.

But some of this geezer music still makes it. Deal with that, youngblood!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

U.S. secrecy system “literally out of control”

U.S. secrecy system “literally out of control”

I don't do politics, generally, but I do a certain amount of moon directed howling about the national security apparatus's takeover of the executive branch, if not the entire Federal Government. Welcome to year sixty-one of the permanent state of emergency that began with Pearl Harbor. Here's a little bit about the state of your security, from the people at

So, do you feel more secure?